By Rick Phelps
We talk about these three concerns often on Memory People. I came up with these three things because as a patient, I want to be safe, pain free, and content. We all do.
Is your loved one safe?
Keeping your loved one safe can simply include keeping them in sight, or it could consist of using alarm pads on their bed to alert you if they get up in the middle of the night.
Keeping them safe gets harder as time goes by. As this disease progresses, it becomes more and more challenging for family members and caregivers. What keeps them safe today may not be effective tomorrow.
Safety could also mean watching what your loved one puts in their mouth. If they are experiencing swallowing issues, you really need to watch this. But any patient can put anything into their mouths. This could be as simple as brushing their teeth with Neosporin instead of toothpaste, simply because the Neosporin was lying on the bathroom sink. They just don't know any better.
Is your loved one pain free?
This topic also differs from patient to patient. I had a cousin who had many medical issues. She started off with diabetes, lost her right leg, and then she became legally blind. The pain this individual experienced was excruciating, but not once did she complain. She had an extremely high tolerance for pain, and fortunately she could communicate this to us.
Your loved one may not be able to communicate such things as pain. Can you imagine having a severe toothache and not being able to convey this? What if you notice your loved one blinking more than usual, but just attribute this to the disease, when in fact they have something in their eye, or their eyeball has been scratched somehow? The list of things one must watch for when it comes to keeping a loved one free of pain is endless.
Most family members and caregivers can tell when their loved one is in pain. They can see it on their face, in their actions, ect. We know that communication is a very hard thing for dementia patients, and someone in the middle and late stages of this disease may not have the ability to express these feelings.
Is your loved one content?
Contentment is a state of mind. I am content when I am just sitting and doing nothing a lot of times. Many patients are, but there is this stigma that goes along with dementia patients that, for whatever reason, they must be doing something.
This something can include activities like puzzles, bingo and crafts. Many times a facility is chosen because of the activities that they offer for your loved one.
As a dementia patient, I can tell you that, for me, activities are not a particularly important thing. I don't need to be kept entertained or busy just because someone says a dementia patient should be.
When a dementia patient who used to be busy doing things takes to just sitting and staring out the window or off into space, we feel that there must be something wrong.
People don't realize that, with this disease, it is a constant battle. There are no breaks. Confusion, memory loss, anxiety, fear, and loneliness are just a few of the symptoms that we deal with constantly.
When I am just sitting down and doing nothing, I am content. The TV may even be on, but I am not watching it. It is just a source of noise. Trying to get me to do a mind game of some sort, a puzzle, or anything for that matter, adds to my stress.
Being content is different for every dementia patient. We tend to think that if our loved ones are doing things they used to do, this will indeed make them feel content.
Taking Mom for a ride in the car, which she used to love to do, can now be a horrific event. Just getting her in the car can be an issue.
Taking Dad to have coffee with his buddies like he used to do can be way too much for him to process. All the people, the noise, the change in surroundings can all be extremely overwhelming.
All of these things, being safe, being pain free, and being content, are different for every patient. Sometimes our efforts are hit or miss, like most things regarding dementia care. There will come a time when there will be no way of knowing if they are pain free or content. The disease will take over so much in the end, it will be impossible for you to tell. Honing the ability to pick up on small, often non-verbal cues in patients can be extremely useful for caregivers.
Asking yourself these three questions throughout each day can help to ensure that you are doing everything in your power to keep your loved one as happy and comfortable as possible:
- Are they safe?
- Are the pain free?
- Are they content?
You are doing the best that anyone can expect of you as a caregiver. Sometimes all of this will seem impossible. But, as difficult as things may be today, keep in mind that this could be the very best day you and your loved one will experience moving forward. We cannot change what is coming, but if we strive to understand their situation and do the very best to keep them safe, pain free, and content, everything else is just small stuff.
Remember to pick your battles. If they haven't bathed in two days, is this really the end of the world?
Do they really need to go to the doctor today? If they miss an appointment because you simply cannot get them dressed, let alone into the car, is it going to be life threatening? Probably not.
When you force your loved one to do something such as bathe or go out, you are defeating the purpose of keeping them safe and content. They do not feel safe because you are having them do something they simply do not understand or do not feel comfortable doing. If they are scared or feel unsafe, then they certainly are not content.
Is this easy? Of course not. These situations are trying on both the patient and the caregiver, but all we can do is try our very best to be consistently attentive and supportive